February 2-3, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Learn it, love it, live it!
#4—The Whole Word



This is the fourth and final message in this series on the Word of God.  Today I’m going to do something different.  This talk is called “The Whole Word”.  I am going to cover the whole Bible—twice—in about 45 minutes.  Why do that?

ILL: What’s this?  It’s a piston.  It’s part of an internal combustion engine.  If you don’t understand the whole—the engine—you won’t understand this part.  The part makes sense in relation to the whole.

The same thing is true of the Bible.  To understand the parts, you need to understand the whole. I’m going to help you do that.

Introduction and offering:

ILL: I promised to give you the whole word in 45 minutes.  I’m going to do better than that: here’s the whole word in 50 words!

God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split, Jacob fooled, Joseph ruled, bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, promise landed, Saul freaked, David peeked, prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked, love talked, anger crucified, hope died, love rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God reigns.

Class dismissed.  First, our memory verse:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Jesus is the Word.  This word points to Jesus, the Word made flesh.  Great memory verse—reminds us that it’s all about Jesus.

We’ve got the whole Bible to cover, so let’s dive in.  

The Big Idea: The individual parts of the Bible are best understood in the context of the whole.  

To do that, you should understand three things: the basic structure of the Word, the big story of the Word, and the heart of the Word.

1. The Basic Structure: An overview of the whole Bible (66 books)

The Bible is a collection of 66 books: 39 in the OT and 27 in the NT. They are not books as we think of them.  Some are letters.  Some are collections of poetry.  Some are stories or history.  Some are collections of prophecies.  But all of them are theological—they are all about God and His work in the world.  

They were written by more than 40 authors in three languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) over more than 1000 years.  Yet together, they tell a single story: the story of God and us.  We’re going to tell that story in a few minutes.  

The Bible is laid out in roughly chronological order.  It starts in Genesis at the beginning of the story (the creation of the world) and ends in Revelation at the climax of the story (the re-creation of the world).  The OT is mostly the story of God’s work in the world through the Jewish people.  The NT is the story of God’s work in the world through Jesus.  Christians see the OT as the promise made, and the NT as the promise fulfilled.

(This manuscript will be available on our website along with the audio and video of this message.)

Old Tesament: 39 books

The Old Testament consists of 39 books that I have divided into four sections.  The Jews divide it into three: law, prophets and writings (they include the history in the prophets).  

The Law: Genesis-Deuteronomy (5)

The first five books of the Bible are known as the Torah or the Pentateuch or the Law.  They are the heart of the OT, just as the gospels are the heart of the NT.  

The first 11 chapters of the Torah contain the story of creation and man’s fall into sin.  Man’s sin eventually became so bad that God destroyed the world with a flood—only Noah and his family survived.  The rest of the Torah is the story of the beginning of God’s covenant with Israel.  

Genesis: Genesis 12-50 is the story of God’s relationship with the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God made a covenant with Abraham and promised to give him descendants, the land of Canaan, and to bless the whole world through him.  The covenant was renewed with Isaac and then Jacob.  God was building a community of faith to show the world His love.  

Exodus: Moses leads Israel out of Egypt.  The descendants of the patriarchs end up in slavery in Egypt for 400 years.  God called Moses to lead them out, and backed him up with some pretty cool miracles: water turned into blood, frogs, flies, gnats, and darkness.  These are a few of my favorite things.  When the Israelites left, the Egyptians pursued them, and God split the Red Sea and Israel walked through on dry land, but the waters closed on the Egyptian army.  Israel was free and on her way to the Promised Land.  They stopped at Mt. Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and other laws to govern their life as a community.

Leviticus is a collection of the laws of the community.

Numbers describes their journey for 40 years in the wilderness before coming to the edge of the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy (which means “second law”) is a retelling of the law and of their journey from Egypt by Moses before they entered the Promised Land.

The Torah ends with Moses’ death and Israel ready to enter the land God had promised to Abraham over 500 years before!

The History: Joshua-Esther (12)

These books are basically the history of the nation of Israel from when they entered and conquered the Promised Land to their return from exile roughly 800-1000 years later.  

Joshua tells the story of Joshua leading the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land, starting with the famous battle at Jericho.

Judges is the story of a 150-300 period after the conquest when Israel was still a loose confederation of tribes, rather than a united nation—kind of like the American colonies before the Declaration of Independence.  It was a mess—a time of religious idolatry when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  There wasn’t a king, but a series of “judges”, including such unsavory characters as Samson.  

Ruth is a wonderful love story from the time of the judges that sets the stage for the birth of David (Ruth was his great grandma).

1-2 Samuel record the beginnings of Israel as a united nation.  Samuel was the last of the judges; he appointed the first king, Saul, who didn’t work out too well.  So Samuel had to appoint a replacement, a young boy named David.  This didn’t sit too well with Saul, who was already jealous of David’s victory over Goliath.  So Saul kept trying to kill David.  Eventually, Saul died in battle, and David united all Israel and they became a regional power.  David was a man after God’s heart and was Israel’s greatest king.  God promised him an everlasting dynasty (something that would be fulfilled by Jesus).  

1-2 Kings tells the sad story of the decline and fall of Israel.  Solomon followed his father David as king; under Solomon, Israel reached her pinnacle of power and wealth.  But Solomon compromised.  He married 700 wives—and had 300 porcupines on the side.  Many of these marriages were for political alliances.  But these foreign wives led Solomon astray into idolatry.  It was the beginning of the end.

Under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the kingdom split in two: Israel (the northern 10 tribes) and Judah (the southern two tribes).  The two kingdoms faced constant threat from foreign powers around them: Egypt, Assyria and Babylon.  And the northern kingdom, Israel, lost contact with God and sunk into idolatry.  In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered Israel and took captive many of her citizens.  Israel was no more.

The southern kingdom of Judah struggled on, but vacillated between idolatry and faithfulness to God, depending on the leadership of the kings and priests.  A few of the good kings were Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Hezekiah and Josiah.  But the bad outnumbered the good and Judah fell to Babylon in 605 BC.

The prophets Elijah and Elisha are prominent in 1-2 Kings.

1-2 Chronicles tell the same story as 1-2 Kings, but almost entirely from the perspective of the southern kingdom of Judah.  It may have been written by a priest who served in the temple in Jerusalem.

Ezra, Nehemiah are from the time of the return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon.  They are all about rebuilding the temple and the walls of the city.

Esther is from the time of Exile and tells the story of the origins of the Jewish festival of Purim.  

The historical books take us from entering the Promised Land to leaving it in Exile to coming back.  

The Writings: Job-Song of Songs (5)

The writings are also called the wisdom literature.  

Job is an epic poem written to address the question of why good people suffer.  

Psalms was Israel’s songbook.  It is a collection of 150 poems that were sung in Israel’s worship services.  The NT authors quote the book of Psalms more than any other OT book.  They all knew them by heart, just like I know all the Beatles songs by heart.  David wrote many of the psalms. These beautiful poems express every human emotion in prayer to God.

Proverbs is a collection of proverbs.  A proverb is a pithy saying, a maxim.  “A stitch in time saves nine.”  What does that mean anyway?  “All’s well that ends well.”  Neither of those are in the Bible, but those are example of modern proverbs.  Solomon wrote some of the proverbs in this book.  

Ecclesiastes seems to be a mixture of poem and proverb by Solomon to teach that life without God is meaningless.

Song of Solomon is a love song that was written to be sung at a wedding.  It is an R-rated section of the Bible—very racy!—and very beautiful.  The early Christians saw it as a metaphor of Jesus’ love for the church.

These are the wisdom literature or the writings.

The Prophets: Isaiah-Malachi (17)

There are 17 prophetic books: 5 major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel), so called because they are larger; and 12 minor prophets, so called because they are smaller (not minor in importance).  All of these prophets spoke the Word of the Lord to Israel and Judah from the time of the divided Kingdom all the way to the return from exile (931-432 BC). And they all served the same basic function: to call them back to God, back to the covenant, back to faithful relationship with the Lord.  “Come back to God!”  That was their basic message.

They also predicted the coming of the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant, who would bring the Day of the Lord, a time when God would put all things right.  They pointed to Jesus.  

The Inter-testamental period.  After the last prophet (Malachi) there were 400 years of silence.  No prophets.   No word from God.  The silence would be broken by the sound of a baby in a barn.

New Testament: 27 books

The NT consists of 27 books that I have divided into four groups: gospels, history, letters and revelation.

The Gospels: Matthew-John (4)

The four gospels all tell the story of Jesus.  And since Jesus is the heart of the Bible, these are the heart of the NT.  Why four gospels?  They each wrote for different audiences.  They borrowed from each other, and shaped their sources to tell the story faithfully yet for a specific audience.  

  • Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience to show that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

  • Mark wrote for a Roman audience to show that Jesus is the divine Son of God.  Peter was probably the one who told Mark the story.

  • Luke wrote for a Greek audience to show that Jesus loved all kinds of people.  Luke was a doctor and wrote beautifully.

  • John wrote for a universal audience, that “you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).    

If you are new to the Bible, I recommend you start with the gospels.  I did.  Read them through, then read them again, then read them again.  Get acquainted with the story of Jesus—you’ll love Him!

The History: Acts (1)

The book of Acts is actually the second half of the gospel of Luke. Luke wrote them both and meant them to be read together, which is why we do it that way in our Bible reading plan.  We just finished Luke and are in Acts now.  Acts is the story of the disciples after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  It tells about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the dramatic growth of the church.  They started in Jerusalem with 120 believers in an upper room, and by the end of the book some 35 years later, Paul was preaching the gospel in Rome and churches had been planted all across the empire! It’s an exciting story, full of action and the power of God!

The Letters: Romans-Jude (21)

The next 21 books are actually letters from the apostles to churches they have started or to individuals.  The first 13 were written by the apostle Paul. We’re not sure who wrote Hebrews.  The other 7 are written by Peter, James, John and Jude.

The letters are filled with what we might call doctrine—which is a word that means “teaching”. They also contain encouragement, correction and rebuke for the young churches and their pastors. The apostles explain the gospel and it’s consequences for life.  These letters give us a peek inside the early church: how they lived, what they thought, what they struggled with.  

The Consummation: Revelation (1)

The first book of the Bible is about the beginning; the last book is about the end.  The book of Revelation is both an encouragement to the Christians when it was written and a prophecy about the end of time.  Revelation was written by the apostle John when he was exiled on the island of Patmos.  God gave him a vision and he wrote it down for us.  

Eric said last week that it seems kind of wacky.  It does!  The creatures and beasts and bowls and plagues are hard to understand.  Revelation is a particular kind of literature that was popular in that day.  It is called “apocalyptic literature.”  Daniel and Ezekiel in the OT were also apocalyptic.  This literature was characterized by very graphic symbolism—so it seems wacky to us.  

But don’t be discouraged, because Revelation has a very clear message: Jesus wins!  In the on-going battle between good and evil (and John’s readers, like him, were facing persecution and death from the Roman empire), don’t lose heart, because in the end, Jesus wins!  John ends with a symbolic vision of a new heaven and new earth—the Garden of Eden restored.

2. The Big Story: the story of the whole Bible

The Big Story in the Bible is the story of God and us.  It is made up of hundreds of small stories, but each small story fits into the Big Story.  I’m going to tell the Big Story in four movements.  In short,

  • God created.

  • We rebelled.

  • God redeemed.

  • God sends us.

It’s the story of God and us…but mostly God!

God created.

The story starts with God creating everything, and declaring it to be good. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The crown of God’s creation was us: human beings, men and women, whom He made in His own image, and declared to be very good.  We enjoyed face-to-face relationship with God and were given the responsibility to tend and care for God’s world.  

It was perfect. We enjoyed face-to-face relationship with God, loving relationships with each other, and harmonious relationship with the world.

So if God created everything good, how did we and the world end up such a mess?  In paradise, the only limitation God placed on us was that we were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If we did, we would die.  

We did…and we have been a mess ever since.

We rebelled.

    The first human beings decided to rebel against God’s single limitation.  They rejected God’s word and wanted to become equal with god.  They ate the forbidden fruit—the first sin.  Suddenly everything changes.  Now they hide from God in shame and guilt—their relationship with God is broken.  When confronted about what they’ve done, they blame each other and God—their relationship with each other is broken. They began to die: physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.  

Their disobedience would spoil everything: their relationship with God, with each other and with the earth.  Marriage would become a power struggle.  Childbirth would become painful.  Work would become difficult.  And everyone would die.  

Sin and death infected and spoiled everything.  

So we live in a good world gone bad, inhabited by good people gone bad.  But God doesn’t give up on His fallen creation; He goes to work to redeem it.

When God cursed the serpent that had tempted them, He said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  (Genesis 3:15)  Here on the very heels of our rebellion is God’s first promise of redemption.  God promised a human offspring who would crush the serpent’s head while suffering a wound himself.

And so the story shifts from creation to fall to redemption.

God redeemed.

    God’s plan for redemption starts with one man, Abraham, whom He wants to make into a new community. God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him.  God promised to bless him and to bless the whole world through him.  This is key: God was working to redeem the whole world; Abraham was just the starting point.

Abraham’s descendants were to live in covenant relationship with God, and show the whole world who God was.  The Old Testament is the story of Israel’s shaky relationship with God—from the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to Moses; to David and the kings of Israel and Judah; to the prophets and people. It’s a messy story—pretty much any time we’re involved, it’s a messy story. But despite the mess, God was faithful as He preserved a people for Himself.

    All through this relationship, God made promises that He would send a redeemer, someone who would put all things right.  An Israelite, a descendant of King David, would be God’s light to the whole world, not just Israel, but a light to the Gentiles too.  God was working to redeem the whole world; Israel was just the start.

    At just the right time, God sent Jesus—an Israelite, a descendant of David, as He had promised.  Rather than abandoning His fallen world, God entered it; He became one of us, born as a baby in a manger.  God Himself came to earth as a human being to redeem human beings.  Jesus lived a perfect life.  He healed the sick; He fed the hungry; He spoke God’s Word; He challenged the religious establishment; He loved the outcast and marginalized.  And the whole time, He moved resolutely to Jerusalem, where He died a sacrificial death in our place.  When He died on the cross, He shouted, “It is finished!”  Our debt was paid in full.   Three days later, He was raised from the dead, conquering death and breaking sin’s hold on us.  He reconciled everything to God—everything in heaven and on earth.

    What Adam started, Jesus ended.  The curse is cursed; death is dead; the way to the tree of life is open again.  We are reconciled to God, to each other, and to the world.  We can begin living as God intended—with Him.  We call this the gospel: the good news of what God has done for us in Christ.  In Jesus, God has forgiven us, reconciled us, redeemed us, and given us new life.  Jesus did it!

    And in the end, because of Jesus, all things will be remade.  There will be a new heaven and earth where righteousness reigns, as God originally intended.  That’s where we’re headed.


God sends us.

    After His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His followers and commissioned them to take the good news everywhere to everyone.  “Make disciples of all nations,” He told them.  “But first, wait for the Holy Spirit who will empower you.”  They did and after the Spirit came, they went into all the world with the good news that God has reconciled us to Himself!

    The Big Story is still being written and we’re part of it!  When we believe in Jesus and follow Him, we become part of God’s Big Story, and carry the good news to others.  Since we are reconciled to God, we become agents of reconciliation.  We are God’s representatives, bringing the good news of the Kingdom to everyone everywhere.

    You are part of God’s Big Story.  First, because He redeemed you.  Second, because He sent you.  Your story is now part of His and the Big Story is still being written!


3. The heart of the whole Bible

    The heart of the whole Bible is…Jesus.

    He is the Word.  He is the gospel. It is all about Him and what He has done for us.  If you read the Bible and don’t come to Jesus, you are misreading it.  It is all about Him.

John 5:39–40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Jesus corrected the Pharisees, who were the supreme students of Scripture in His day.  They read it, but they didn’t get it.  They missed the heart of it: Jesus.  They began to think that the Scripture could give them life.

ILL: Imagine that I’m out of town for a month, and my wife writes me love letters.  In the letters, she tells me about herself, and how much she loves me.  I treasure the letters because they are from her and about her.  They make me miss her and want to be with her.  

But what if I started thinking the letters were enough, so instead of wanting her, I just wanted them.  “I love these letters.  These letters are my true love.”  I stopped wanting to be with Laina because I had the letters.  Weird.

That’s kind of what happened to the Pharisees.  They loved the Scriptures, but they didn’t love Jesus—and the Scriptures are all about Jesus.

We’ve talked for four weeks about how powerful God’s Word is.  But remember that God’s written Word (the Bible) points us to God’s incarnate Word: Jesus.  It is Jesus who saves us.  The Scripture should make us come to Jesus for life.

ILL: John Ortburg tells about a friend named Eileen who was disappointed with her life, but wanted nothing to do with God.  In fact, when her daughter told her that someone had been talking to her about God, Eileen was so upset that she couldn’t sleep that night.  

At midnight she went downstairs and picked up a Bible.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to a church, nor had she ever opened a Bible on her own.  When she opened it now, she noticed it was divided into an “old” part and a “new” part.  She decided to start with the “new” part, figuring the book may have been updated.

So in the still of the night she sat on her living room floor and began to read the gospel of Matthew.  By 3 a.m. she was in the middle of John’s gospel and found, as she puts it, that she had fallen in love with the character of Jesus.  “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she prayed to God, “but I know you are what I want.”  

That’s what the Scriptures should do to us.  Jesus is the heart of the Bible.  Come to Jesus.